Isaac Oliver Best manuscripts  ca. 1880s
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Best, Isaac Oliver, 1841-1923

Rank : Private

Regiment : 16th New York Infantry Regiment (1861-1863)
121st New York Infantry Regiment (1862-1865)

Service : 1862 August 15-1865 June 25

Isaac Oliver Best was born January 4, 1841, in Oswegatchie, St. Lawrence County, N.Y., the fifth child and fourth son of John M. and Elizabeth Best, English immigrants who had settled in St. Lawrence County in 1831 or 1832. Sometime prior to 1860, the family moved to Ogdensburg, N.Y., where Isaac attended the Ogdensburg Institute. He entered Hamilton College in September, 1861, but during the summer of 1862, patriotism proved stronger than the love of academic life, and Best enlisted on August 15, 1862, as a private in Co. A, 16th New York Infantry.

By August, 1862, the 16th New York Infantry was already a veteran outfit assigned to the VI Corps, Army of the Potomac, having mustered in on May 16, 1861, for two years' service. Company A had been organized at Ogdensburg, and Best knew several members who had enlisted in May, 1861, including his friends and fellow Ogdensburgers Michael Sullivan, Joseph Tromblee and Delos Ellsworth. A short time before Isaac enlisted, his older brother, William, had enrolled, July 22, 1862, for three years as a Corporal in Company D, 106th New York Volunteer Infantry, "The St. Lawrence County Regiment."

Isaac joined his regiment at Bakersville, Md., shortly after the Battle of Antietam and served with it during the campaign against Fredericksburg in December, 1862, the "Mud March" of January, 1863 and at Chancellorsville in May, 1863, only a few days before the two year men were formally mustered out of the service. At this point, the three-year recruits were transferred to the 121st New York Infantry, a three years regiment organized at Herkimer, N.Y., on August 13, 1862, and which was also assigned to VI Corps.

Isaac Best mustered out June 22, 1865, and in September returned to Hamilton College. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with the Class of 1867 and received a masters degree in 1870. Best was licensed to preach in 1872 and ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1873, but he switched from preaching to teaching and back to preaching several times during the period 1875-1900. He taught Greek and Latin at Bloomsburg, Pa., was Principal of the Clinton Grammar School and the Rural High School at Clinton, N.Y., served as minister at Otisco, Broadalbin, Mayfield and in 1906 at Chili Station. He married Harriet C. Lindsay of Dorchester, Mass., on July 2, 1868. Their children were Harriet G., (b. 1871), Isaac Lindsay (b. 1874), Marilla Rachel (b. 1881) and Ruth Elizabeth (1879-before 1889). Isaac Lindsay Best followed in his father's footsteps at Hamilton, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1899, and Marilla Rachel's son, J.B. Hall also attended, graduating in 1935.

Whether teacher or preacher, Isaac Best was active in veterans' affairs and regularly attended the reunions of both the 16th and 121st New York. He also lectured before groups of veterans and published essays and memoirs, as well as a history of the 121st New York Infantry, published posthumously.

Best applied for a pension in December, 1896, complaining of rheumatism and "hemmorage of the bowels and piles." He claimed to have contracted rheumatism during the severe cold weather before Fredericksburg in 1862, adding that "on May 5, 1863 at or near Salem Church, Va. he was left on the skirmish line after the Army had been withdrawn in the night and in order to escape being captured had to run from the turn Pike to Banks Ford, Va.; that he was overheated and exhausted and the night being cold he was taken with chill followed by severe rheumatism from which he has never recovered. That he has no vicious habits, has never used liquor, tobacco, or any other narcotic or violated the law of chastity." Best further stated "I am a minister and do not perform any manual labor and cannot perform any manual labor." The application was swiftly approved. Best retired from the ministry sometime after 1910 and died at Cliffside, N.J., March 28, 1923.